December 20 2011
In the great game between bookies and punters, information has long been the most highly prized weapon. But in the 24-hour media age, it’s difficult to keep anything secret for long. So has the rise of social networking sites empowered punters and given them fascinating new insights to use to their advantage? Or is it just clogging up everyone’s thought processes with irrelevant trivia?
The Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has dealt successfully with almost everything that football can throw at him, but the 69-year-old has admitted to being baffled by the phenomenon of Twitter. Earlier this year he described it as “a waste of time” and declared there were “a million better things” his players could do to occupy themselves such as going down to a library and reading a good book. He’s even gone so far as to say that he would ban his players from using Twitter altogether if he could. That would presumably be a blow to the United defender Rio Ferdinand, who has an estimated 1.5m Twitter followers (@rioferdy5) who are privy to such choice nuggets as Rio’s “song of the morning” and news that he’s “en route to training” as opposed, presumably, to the Trafford Shopping Centre.
Sir Alex’s bemusement may just be a generational problem, but the Scotsman is famous for keeping his players on a tight leash. He and other coaches clearly fear that social media sites are not only threatening their control, but may be tempting naïve individuals to reveal more than is wise – and not just about their personal lives. Last week United besat Wolverhampton Wanderers 4-1 in a Premier League match at Old Trafford, and Fergie’s Wolves counterpart Mick McCarthy also has grave misgivings about what he has called “Twits who Tweet”. McCarthy’s ire is understandable given that, last winter, the identity of a Wolves transfer target was inadvertently revealed on Twitter. Another club, who were also interested in the player, saw the posting and promptly slipped in and signed the footballer right under McCarthy’s nose.
So what might be next? A player leaving this morning’s training session and accidentally Tweeting tomorrow’s Wolves tactics and team selection? Giving United 24 hours to plan their counter strategy? McCarthy thinks it could happen. “Players are going to get themselves in trouble with Twitter,” he said ruefully. “I can’t ban it, and I’m not going to try, but when you are a high-profile professional you have to be careful what you say.”
Not all footballing Tweets have been banal or embarrassing, though. Some have been downright fascinating. Take the case of Joey Barton, for example. The QPR and former Newcastle midfielder is a gifted player, but he also has a reputation as one of the game’s most fiery personalities. Yet the tough guy has revealed himself on Twitter to be a surprisingly witty and well-read character with references not only to northern music icons Morrissey and The Smiths, but also Nietzsche and Oscar Wilde. Fitzdares has responded by quoting odds on which authors Barton is most likely to refer to in his Tweets over the Christmas period, and Dickens heads the market on 5-1, with Thomas Hardy a 25-1 chance and Noddy Holder the 33-1 outsider. But for such a renaissance man as Barton, William Shakespeare is surely overpriced at 10-1 with Fitzdares.